During our stay in Bratislava, Jonas and I planned a day trip to Devínska Kobyla – the highest point of Bratislava. The peak is at 514 masl and there’s an abandoned missile base there. We planned to go hiking in the forest and see if we could enter the abandoned buildings by means of urban exploration. This happened on Friday, October 11th, 2019. To skip to the map and route of the hike, click here.
- 1 Background
- 2 Taking a Bolt up the Mountain
- 3 An Uphill Forest Hike
- 4 The Military Installations at Devínska Kobyla
- 5 Pirate Kitty at the Summit
- 6 Charming the Humans
- 7 An Accompanied Hike Down Devínska Kobyla
- 8 The Scramble Downhill
- 9 Arriving Downhill
- 10 Catless At Devín Castle Ruins
- 11 Map and Route
- 12 Thank You for Reading!
After the kayak trip, Jonas and I traveled back to Bratislava because we loved it so much. We wanted to stay in the city for 30 days to work and relax before we traveled back to our passport nations (Germany and the Netherlands). There, we had to drop our boat Zucchini and repack for our trip to Asia.
We stayed in a different Airbnb in Bratislava than the first time. We moved much closer to Stupavar, which is a craft beer pub and our second living room by at least a few definitions. It was a very wholesome city to stay in while the weather in Europe got slowly colder. Most days were still incredibly sunny after a fresh morning: ideal hiking weather.
I was scrolling the map for nice hiking areas and then typed them into Google. One other obvious hike was in the surroundings of the Železná Studnička, where the Bratislavese Couchsurfing/local guide communities often organize hiking in the park with shelter dogs.
Taking a Bolt up the Mountain
We didn’t want to make it too hard for ourselves, so we decided to not use public transit and get a Bolt taxi instead. Another advantage of taking a taxi app there is that you can take it all the way up to the beam gate barrier. Price-wise, if you’re two people or more, this makes much more sense than trying to figure out the bus, which stops about 2 kilometers further away from the entry gate in Stará Dúbravka.
In the morning, our driver picked us up from our trusty spot at Billa. Most of the areas we drove through were familiar to us by now. Once we got to Dúbravka, the area got a bit steeper. The panelák buildings were replaced with mansions on steep green mountain slopes. Those mansions eventually gave way to just forest. Even though the former military gate was open, we got out of the car there to continue to the peak of Devínska Kobyla on foot.
An Uphill Forest Hike
There were still a few cars driving on the skinny asphalted road, so we ducked into the parallel path in the forest. It was still 1.6 kilometers to the peak with a 114-meter ascent, but we’d covered most of the way up with the Bolt already. We were definitely being kind to ourselves. We also already knew from the altitude data that the descent might be tough.
Walking uphill at a steady pace warmed us up rather quickly. Soon, we had to take off our coats to experience this awkward in-between body temperature typical for autumn. I used my map to see whether we were getting close to the military base already, which made me a bit nervous. Officially, it’s still not allowed to go up to the missile base and explore, though it is not enforced. There are even some plans to make the area a tourist attraction. We wondered what kind of obstacles to visiting the area we’d find – if any.
Once we got closer, we could see the (working) telecom tower that they placed near the entrance. Since Devínska Kobyla is the highest point of Bratislava, it makes sense to place a tower there. We also saw the wall that surrounds the compound. Our trail parallel to the military road first brought us near the tower. The tower was gated-off to protect against trespassers. A few meters further, there was the locked gate to the abandoned missile base. We ran into a man there, but he seemed to be minding his own business.
Next to the gate was one abandoned building that’s presumably part of the missile base. It was completely accessible and falling apart. There were loads of broken glass lying around that reflected the sky and the treetops. The ceiling was rotting away and hanging down. There were giant holes in the wall that showed the next floor. The whole place was graffitied. Trees were taking over. The place was a whole mood.
Behind that building, there was that concrete wall again. But this time, there was a gap in it. We climbed uphill and went through it.
The Military Installations at Devínska Kobyla
On the other side, we were on the road inside the military base. We took a left and followed the road uphill. There were scattered buildings all in the same condition: dilapidated. We found the first missile storage holes and entered it with a lot of caution. It was dark inside and quite creepy. At the deep end of the missile storage hole, there was a door and a broken window with daylight behind it. I didn’t really dare to get in any deeper.
Back outside, we kept walking uphill. Sometimes we saw that the areas next to the road were completely flat. When walking on to them, we saw that there was often another abandoned building beneath our feet. Even though many things were broken, most of the concrete still stood mightily. At another rocket bunker, Jonas joined me to enter it to stare at the air vent that had come down from the ceiling, with or without a person’s help.
During the Cold War, this missile base adjoining the Iron Curtain deterred the entering of enemy aircraft into Czechoslovakia. The missile base at Devínska Kobyla was emptied out and abandoned by the military in 1996. That’s twenty-three years of neglect, exposure to the elements and vandalism to endure. It’s fascinating to see what still remains after this time. Since two decades isn’t that long ago either, I wonder how the people that worked here are doing. Do they still visit?
Nearing the peak, there was one building that looked more like barracks. I cautiously entered it to check it out from the inside. With all the glass and broken bathroom tiles lying around, I was really happy with my thick-soled hiking boots. One room had a weird red room divider that somehow survived all this time. It’s hard to see what it could have been. Perhaps a social area?
We continued the hike to the summit of Devínska Kobyla. Jonas had seen enough missile caves by now, but I could have walked around for hours. But we needed to make it to the summit and all the way back down to Devín today, so we didn’t have endless time to loiter around.
Near the peak, the path forked to an upper level and a lower level. We took the higher ground to find the lookout tower and passed several round patches of concrete, presumably launch pads. We spotted the lookout tower and another telecom tower on the flattened summit. Finally, we made it to the highest point in Bratislava!
Pirate Kitty at the Summit
There were fewer trees on the summit, which helped a little bit with the view. We approached the tower and I intended to climb its ladder. The rusty structure looked sturdy enough; it even had guy lines for support.
Jonas said something to me when I was about to climb the tower. I asked him to repeat it and it was something about a cat. I heard a faint meow and saw Jonas backing out of the untamed grass, followed by a meowing kitty with just one eye. As they say in my cat groups: a pirate kitty!
It loudly meowed at Jonas and approached our legs. The cat seemed very eager to come close to us, which made me fearful that the cat would have rabies.
Once the cat was at our legs, they flopped over to the side and rolled on its back in the grass like a dog. It was adorable and just wanted to be loved.
Jonas knows that my heart melts for the strays. I’m also very likely to try to rescue cats or kittens from outdoor situations and try to get them adopted through a local shelter. He looked at me to tell me I shouldn’t give the cat attention, so I didn’t. We walked away, but the kitty followed us while loudly meowing for pets.
I wanted to check out the path on the lower level too, so we descended to another level of the hill. Unprompted, the kitty guided us to yet another missile grotto. It’s like the cat knew where we were going. I couldn’t resist giving the kitty some attention when it was being photogenic and vocal in this deserted area on the outskirts of a capital city. Oh my god what a fucking cat.
Jonas really wanted to go now, so we started looking for another hole in the fence. At the opposite end of where we’d entered the compound, our offline map showed a hiking trail. There was no connection between our road and the trail. We theorized that someone probably made a hole in the concrete wall and a path for exactly this shortcut.
We first walked past a sign that said the land here is for sale. Jonas exchanged a meaningful look with our cat guide, who mostly fixated on Jonas and not on me. Then we saw a pickup truck drive inside the compound towards the land for sale, so we headed for the concrete fence.
Behind a little building, there was a hole indeed that gave us access to the Devínska Kobyla reserve. We went through it and found the trailhead. Summit kitty joined us.
Charming the Humans
There was a nearby viewpoint we wanted to visit first. Jonas had to have a phone call with his business partner. This was a good place to do it from. I snapped photos of our beautiful Danube through the autumn foliage, while Jonas discussed things with a sweet kitty at his feet.
Pirate kitty acted very socialized towards humans. I know nothing of eye surgery on cats, but the scar on pirate kitty’s eye looked healthy and possibly surgical. The whole cat looked rather young and healthy, as they had lots of muscle and wasn’t scrawny at all. Did someone abandon this friendly feline on Bratislava’s highest peak? Who the fuck would abandon such a dog-like cat? It’s heartbreaking.
I sit down at a picnic table. Suddenly, I feel something touching the back of my head. Pirate kitty is sniffing my hair. Now they’re next to me and wanting to get on my lap. I block that action, but also give a careful first head scratch to our little stalker. They purred.
Jonas is finishing up his phone call when an older man drops by the viewpoint. Pirate kitty goes to him and the man showers them with love and pets. It’s so sweet and makes me feel like a dick for not reciprocating the love to the cat, in fear of getting attached. The man says sweet Slovak words to the cat and then inquired if it was our cat. I responded in English that it’s not our cat. The man hung around for a good ten minutes only appreciating the cat and not the view before he walked on. I hoped for a spontaneous adoption by this friendly man, but the cat didn’t follow him. We wondered why, since he seemed so much more in love with the cat. In the end, the cat decides which human they adopt.
A few minutes later, two younger women entered the viewpoint via a different route. They, too, petted pirate kitty and enjoyed a few laughs.
An Accompanied Hike Down Devínska Kobyla
We began our descend down Devínska Kobyla. We chose the longer route down, which had a gentler slope. Pirate kitty followed us, then took the lead. It really looked like the cat knew the way better than us.
With our furry companion, we really enjoyed the forest hike with its autumn smells and bright blue beetles. We make a short stop at the zig-zag where which leads to the steeper trail that goes down to Devín. By now, I couldn’t resist petting the cat. They genuinely looked and felt healthy. Their coat was a bit sandy, but we’ve seen them roll in sand, dust, and ash a couple of times by now. I don’t see any signs of fleas.
On the wide trail, we encounter a group of young men. They look bamboozled at us walking our cat in the forest. I hear them mumble something about the three of us. One tall guy reaches down to pet the kitty. Then our guide cat catches up with us again and takes the lead.
I’m still thinking about what to do once we’re downhill and in civilization. We have two backpacks, but nothing to safely carry a grown cat in to take them to the animal shelter. I’d read about a couchsurfing event in Bratislava that goes to the nearby called Freedom for Animals. Some nice person organizes bi-monthly walks with shelter dogs for the local couchsurfing community. Perhaps they can find a forever home for this extraordinary cat.
The Scramble Downhill
With the help of our maps and GPS, we find the side trail that goes down steeply to the foot of Devínska Kobyla hill. We arrive at another viewpoint that shows us a better view of the Danube we’ve paddled before in the summer season. The Devín castle ruins are in our field of vision again. We can see a little bit of the confluence of the Morava and the Danube, too. We’d just paddled a large portion of the Morava one week before.
Jonas poses for a photo and pirate kitty follows. Now Jonas also pets our tiny adventure cat. I think he’s finally becoming a cat person. Jonas takes a few photos of me with the view and the cat too before we begin the challenging part of this hike.
By now, it’s really hot and sunny. We’ve taken off many layers of clothes and are happy we chose to bring two backpacks to carry all that. The steep part is really steep and the rocks are moving beneath our shoes. Soon I’m using my hands to keep myself from falling. Jonas is also struggling, though he’s not very inclined to use his hands during a descend. It’s probably because of his height. Adventure kitty doesn’t understand what’s taking so long and meows impatiently.
It’s quite a challenge and we both get a little sweaty. I’m happy we brought enough water in our hydration bladder. When we take a break, I try to give some water to our companion cat, which they reject. We continue down into the outskirts of Devín. We hear cars on a road below and hope that we can soon walk with a straight spine again. My knees are protesting.
At 14:30, we arrive at a fence that separates the Devínska Kobyla reserve from the nice houses in this neighborhood. It must be so nice to live close to nature, but still close enough to a city.
Once we hit the asphalt, it’s time to think about what to do with our trusty guide cat. I look into their eye and feel overwhelmed with powerlessness. It’s the kind of heartache you feel when you want to help so badly, but know that your options are limited. I grab my phone and start Googling for the phone number of Freedom for Animals. Jonas and I squat down to pet the cat while I’m on hold for a very long time.
An older lady shows up. I ask her if she speaks English (yes) and if she knows another animal shelter. She looks at starts petting while she apologizes for not really knowing what to do either. When she asks how we found this cat, Jonas and I begin telling the story of how this pirate kitty followed us all the way down from the peak of Devínska Kobyla when someone picks up the phone.
We tell the person from Freedom for Animals that we don’t really speak Slovak and that we found a cat. The lady on the phone asks us if the cat looks healthy, which we confirm. Then she asks how old the cat is. The lady that just passed by jumps in the conversation and says that it looks like a grown, but a still young and very playful cat.
Upon hearing this, the lady from Freedom for Animals says that we should either adopt the cat ourselves or leave it outside.
What? I don’t understand. A loving kitty like this wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time in the shelter and would probably not take up a lot of veterinary resources. I’m confused.[Only much later, after watching many Kitten Lady videos, I learn that cats are more likely to be adopted off the street than from an animal shelter. I’m not sure if in Slovakia, Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) campaigns also tip the ears of each sterilized cat. Pirate kitty had intact ears, which could indicate that they weren’t sterilized. Or it could also not mean that. Who knows.]
We finish up the phone call and thank her for her time. Before we hang up, the passerby lady shrugs and looks a bit sad. She pets the cat a bit more and then slowly walks away into a dead-ended street. We wrapped up the phone call and look for the pirate kitty.
We catch the last glimpse of this marvelous cat who chose to follow the passerby lady. She really wanted to help us. Perhaps the kitty also felt that and chose to follow her instead of us.
Catless At Devín Castle Ruins
Bewildered of what just happened, we decide to continue with our original plan and walk to Devín. Our minds settle on that the cat is in capable hands now and that the lady welcomed a new cat with open arms. There’s not a single human this cat hasn’t enamored today. Jonas is also weirded out by how much he liked that cat. He’s grasping for words to describe what that was like. And he thought it was impossible to connect to cats like that.
We walk in direction of the castle of Devín past the cemetery parallel to a Korean tourist who seems to just have the greatest time. There’s a weird petting zoo with animals like owls and falcons in cages. It feels like a bad place for animals. I hope our cat is alright.
When we finally arrive at the castle, we discuss whether we want to pay the entrance fee and visit it, or just go to the Morava-Danube confluence. We decide on the latter and walk through the flood wall to the Iron Curtain monument, where we spotted the Twin City Liner for the umpteenth time. One week ago we popped out of the Morava here and got many nervous looks from onlookers as we paddled through the unpredictable currents of the clash with the more powerful Danube. Now we’re just strolling like everyone else.
We walk along the embankment southward past the awkwardly-placed abandoned amfitéater. I’m hoping Café Ahoy is open for a beer after this adventure, but it was closed. In the garden, they had a neglected inflatable canoe rotting away, which felt weirdly personal. So we decided to go home by bus.
Once we were home, we were tired but satisfied with our hike at Devínska Kobyla and the wild ride that was meeting this amazing cat. That evening we went to our favorite pub Piváreň Stupavar to meet a friend. Just in a few weeks, we would travel far away from Bratislava, the Danube, and our Zucchini. It felt strange that this time was coming to an end.
Map and Route
Thank You for Reading!